Democrats have pulled ahead in nearly enough races to claim a majority of the 435 seats up for grabs in the first national election of Donald Trump’s presidency, with POLITICO’s final race ratings showing 216 seats in the Democratic column — those are either solidly Democratic, likely Democratic or at least leaning Democratic.
That’s a significantly stronger position than Republicans, who have 197 seats leaning or solidly in their camp, but still just shy of the 218 needed to control the House next year. Republicans would need to win at least 21 of the 22 toss-ups — races that are currently considered too close to call — to get to 218 seats.
According to the race ratings — which are based on extensive reporting over the final weeks of the campaign, conversations with roughly two-dozen party strategists and operatives, examination of public and private polling data and monitoring campaign and outside-group strategies and advertising — the most likely gain for Democrats is between 25 and 40 seats.
Democrats need to pick up just 23 seats in total to win a majority Tuesday.
A Democratic-controlled House — nearly unthinkable earlier this decade, given the GOP’s structural advantages in the way the districts are drawn — would represent a rebuke to Trump, even with a booming economy, and grind much of his legislative agenda to a halt until the 2020 election.
But the president will likely have something about which to crow on Tuesday night: His party is likely to keep control of the Senate and could expand its narrow majority, even as it loses significant ground in the House.
The greatest drama on Tuesday night may come in the races for governor across the country. Three dozen governorships are up for grabs, and a quarter of them, nine, are rated as toss-ups going into Election Day, including four big prizes: Florida, Georgia, Ohio and Wisconsin. The president carried all four of those states in 2016.
While Democrats are favored to win control of the House, the majority will be decided by the nearly two dozen toss-up races that campaignoperatives in both parties believe are virtual coin flips. Many of them have been among the most competitive and contested races all cycle, like a handful of races in Southern California, two contests in the Dallas and Houston suburbs, or another two suburban Philadelphia seats.
But Democrats now have at least a modest advantage in some races previously seen as toss-ups, like the districts held by Republican Reps. Peter Roskam and Randy Hultgren outside Chicago or Rep. Mike Bishop in suburban Michigan. Democrats are also more optimistic about their chances in Miami, where former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala had been struggling to put away a district Hillary Clinton won by 20 points in 2016. And the party now feels it is favored to pick off GOP seats from southeastern Virginia (Virginia’s 2nd District) to Orange County, Calif. (California’s 39th District).
At the same time, a number of races that had been leaning toward Republicans are now toss-ups, including two where the GOP has narrowly won special elections this cycle: the suburban Atlanta seat held by Rep. Karen Handel, and the Columbus, Ohio-area district where now-Rep. Troy Balderson won by a single percentage point this past August.
Democrats are also on offense in what has been more solidly Republican territory. The party is competitive in traditionally Republican areas of Florida, New Mexico and Utah. The indictments of Republican Reps. Duncan Hunter (Calif.) and Chris Collins (N.Y.) have unexpectedly brought their seats on the map, even though Trump carried both districts easily.
Republicans have pulled a couple of seats back into their column over the final weeks, but they have mostly been in red territory, like an open-seat race in southern West Virginia where Trump won a whopping 72 percent of the vote in 2016.
There is some hope for the GOP: National polls show the generic ballot — voters’ general preference for Congress — tightening in the closing weeks, as Trump’s approval rating has also ticked up slightly.
But the district-level polling in most battleground seats — public and private — hasn’t improved for the GOP. And senior House Republicans are nervous that Trump’s late focus on immigration and cultural issues has deprived the party of any late momentum.
Republicans remain favored to retain the Senate. Between the Republican-held seats not up for election this year and those rated as lean, likely or solidly Republican going into Tuesday, the party is at 50 seats — the bare minimum needed to control the chamber with Vice President Mike Pence’s tie-breaking vote.
The three seats currently classified as “Lean Republican” would foreclose any path for Democrats: GOP-held seats in Tennessee and Texas, and Heidi Heitkamp’s reelection race in North Dakota. GOP Rep. Marsha Blackburn leads former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen in Tennessee — though strategists say her margin is smaller than the double-digit advantage she has in some public surveys.
In Texas, blockbuster early-voting tallies and reportedly tightening polls have cast doubt about the size of GOP Sen. Ted Cruz’s lead over Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke, but the incumbent senator is still a significant favorite on Tuesday.
And Democrats insist Heitkamp can still come back — but concede she’s trailing GOP Rep. Kevin Cramer.
“Never count out Heidi Heitkamp,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said on “Fox News Sunday.” “People did that six years ago when she was 10 points behind. She won that race. She’s less than 10 points behind right now.”
If Democrats can win one of those three races, they’ll still need to sweep the five toss-up contests on Tuesday to win back the majority. Three of the five are in states that Trump carried and where Democrats are defending seats: Florida, Indiana and Missouri.
Republicans are convinced they have the advantage in both Missouri and Indiana. Of those, the Missouri seat — currently held by Sen. Claire McCaskill — is the most endangered. But public polls in recent days have McCaskill neck-and-neck with state Attorney General Josh Hawley, who had been ahead in some other surveys in October. And Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly led his GOP challenger, former state Rep. Mike Braun, in two public polls last week.
The Florida race — between Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and GOP Gov. Rick Scott — is very close. Democrats claim a slim advantage, which is backed up by most public polls, but Republicans say the race is a dead heat.
Then there are the two Republican-held toss-up seats: Arizona and Nevada. Both races are extremely tight, according to the balance ofpublic and private polling.
Democratic Sen. Jon Tester is still ahead in Montana in a race POLITICO rates as “Lean Democratic,” though Republican state Auditor Matt Rosendale is within striking distance. In West Virginia, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin is favored to defeat GOP state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and overcome his state’s lurch to the right in recent years.
New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez enters Election Day with a lead in the polls over Republican Bob Hugin, though Menendez’s favorable ratings are poor after a graft trial that ended in a hung jury last year.
Democrats appear poised to pick up at least three governorships on Tuesday. J.B. Pritzker has a big lead over Illinois GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner, Gretchen Whitmer is well ahead of Republican Bill Schuette in Michigan, and Democratic Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham is comfortably in front of GOP Rep. Steve Pearce in New Mexico.
The night could be better — a lot better — if most of the nine toss-up governor’s races go the party’s way. But Republicans can preserve much of their statehouse domination if their candidates succeed on Tuesday, especially in the largest toss-up states: Florida, Ohio, Georgia and Wisconsin.
In Florida, Democrat Andrew Gillum and Republican Ron DeSantis are running close in the polls. It’s the same story in Ohio, where Democratic former state Attorney General Richard Cordray and his successor, Mike DeWine, are neck-and-neck.
In Georgia, if the margin is razor-thin between Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp — as the polls suggest it is — then the presence of a Libertarian candidate on the ballot could deny either candidate a majority and force a December 4 runoff.
And in Wisconsin, GOP Gov. Scott Walker is in a fight for his political life. A Marquette Law School poll released last week showed him tied with Democrat Tony Evers.
Races are also roughly tied in a number of smaller states where Republicans currently hold the governor’s office: Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Nevada and South Dakota.
Republicans are in the hunt for governorships in typically blue Connecticut and Oregon, though both states are rated as “Lean Democratic.” And Republican Mike Dunleavy has a good shot at winning in Alaska, though independent Gov. Bill Walker’s decision to drop out and endorse former Democratic Sen. Mark Begich in the final weeks of the campaign has scrambled the race. But Democrats have longer-shot opportunities, too, in New Hampshire and Oklahoma.
Of the 50 U.S. governors, 33 are Republicans. If it’s a bad night for the GOP, that number could slip to fewer than 25. But many races remain tight going into Election Day.